The past two races, the Verizon IndyCar Series has gone from the oldest track on the circuit (Milwaukee) to one of the newest (Iowa). This weekend, the series visits one of the more quaint venues – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. There are those that might replace the word quaint with quirky.
I’ve never been to Mid-Ohio, but from what I’ve heard – there is a lot there that would appeal to me. It sounds like Mid-Ohio is like taking a step back into time. To me, that’s a good thing. As most know, I tend to detest change and it sounds like not much has changed at Mid-Ohio since it first opened in 1962. The scenic natural terrain road course offers some elevation changes, tight turns and minimal passing zones. Those minimal passing zones have been known to create some less than stellar races over the years.
CART first raced at Mid-Ohio in 1980, when Johnny Rutherford won in Jim Hall’s Chaparral – the Yellow Submarine. After a two-year hiatus, the track became a regular fixture on the CART schedule through 2003. Such names as Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Alex Zanardi, Helio Castroneves and Paul Tracy all joined Rutherford as winners during the CART years.
Then the Verizon IndyCar Series added the traditional road racing venue to its schedule in 2007. Those first few races tended to be yawners
But the last few years have been better than those immediately after the race came back onto the IndyCar schedule in 2007. Since the DW12 was introduced, perhaps no other track on the circuit has benefitted from its raciness than Mid-Ohio.
The pit boxes at Mid-Ohio are the smallest that IndyCar drivers will face all year. That presents a challenge, not only for the drivers, but for the pit crewmembers that are out in harms way during pit stops. If you thought the pits were tight at Milwaukee or Iowa, just wait until Sunday at Mid-Ohio. Pit stops are critical anywhere, but teams and drivers will have to be extra-careful on Sunday.
Another quirk of Mid-Ohio is that the starting line is separate from the finish line. While the finish line is on the main straightaway alongside the pits, the starting line is on the backstretch. I’ve always wondered if the completion of Lap One was half a lap away at the finish line, or a full lap back to the starting line. Who knows?
There appear to be many hillsides and trackside viewing areas at Mid-Ohio. This is a track where attendance is not a real problem. Since there is not a large metropolitan area anywhere close to the track, hotel rooms in the area are at a premium. So what does everyone do? They camp.
It sounds like most people I know that go to Mid-Ohio each year, opt to camp on the grounds. While that probably appeals to many of you, that’s the one thing that might keep me away from a track I’d really like to go to. My camping days are behind me. I’d prefer to find a Comfort Inn within forty miles than to camp, glamp or anything else that requires me spending a weekend without air-conditioning, plumbing and cable TV. So, for this year anyway, I’ll be watching from my couch at home.
As I mentioned earlier, the last few years have provided very entertaining races. Last year, Scott Dixon spun in qualifying and started dead last on the grid. Given his recent history at Mid-Ohio, it was no surprise that Dixon was able to make his way to the front and win another race at a track that has become Dixon’s playground. Scott Dixon has won three of the past four races at Mid-Ohio and five of the last eight. To say he knows his way around there is an understatement But to see him make his way to victory lane from the back of the grid last year was something special.
The only driver to break up Dixon’s recent party at Mid-Ohio has been his Ganassi teammate, Charlie Kimball, who won a caution-free race in 2013. In fact, that was the second consecutive caution-free race at Mid-Ohio. Since the venue first appeared on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in 2007, all but one race has been won by a Ganassi car. The lone exception being Ryan Briscoe for Team Penske in 2008.
Since this is considered a home track for Graham Rahal, he is the sentimental favorite to win on Sunday. Rahal has been living a charmed life this season and has found success that few have while driving a Honda aero kit. I expect Rahal to have another great day and possibly whittle a bit more away out of Juan Montoya’s lead in the points, but he won’t win. Neither will Scott Dixon. Although Dixon has proven his mastery at Mid-Ohio, I think the day will belong to another young driver that has also been leading a charmed life this season.
The winner of the 2015 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be Nashville’s own Josef Newgarden. He could have won last season had he not hit an air-hose and tripped up a crewmember. There will be no such mistakes on Sunday. Look for Newgarden to collect his third win of the season. Book it!